Ishana Night Shyamalan Is Very Aware You Know Just Who Her Dad Is

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Ishana Night Shyamalan Is Very Aware You Know Just Who Her Dad Is


It only takes a few minutes into The Watchers for any horror-movie buff to figure out that the film is influenced by the work of one of the genre’s greats. The new thriller, in theaters June 7, follows Mina (Dakota Fanning), a 20-something emotionally damaged American living abroad, whose work errand takes an unexpected — and seriously creepy — turn when she finds herself alone and lost in the woods of rural Ireland. But, as Mina and viewers quickly discover, she’s far from the only person — or thing — in the forest. Because the woods don’t just hold secrets, but something far more sinister: an unseen, unknowable, entity lurking beyond the fog. 

Sound familiar? Ishana Night Shyamalan is probably betting on that. The Watchers director, in her solo directorial debut, has taken into account the fact that her last name will probably garner some comparisons to her famous father — horror director M. Night Shyamalan — not to mention the pressure that comes with having an instantly recognizable last name and expectations to live up to.

“It’s something that I consider and have considered every day in the process,” Ishana Night Shyamalan tells Refinery29. “I was very afraid of what those implications would be and if I would be judged.” 

Some young people from a famous family might be intimidated by legacy and everything that comes with it (CC: imposter syndrome, being underestimated by people on the internet who don’t even know you). For this 24-year-old though, the pressure is more akin to a lighter and has sparked a fire in her belly. “Having something to prove when you walk into a room and a space is never a bad thing and makes you work harder and makes you want it more,” she says.

For Shyamalan, The Watchers not only gives her the opportunity to both delight fans and disapprove haters, but also reveals her very specific creative voice through the arc of the movie. The first-time solo director has enjoyed averting expectations that her filmmaking is a copy-paste of her dad’s. “That’s kind of embedded into the movie; you’re going from a tone that feels somewhat familiar and then moving to a more expansive, experimental place,” she says. 

Still, there is a certain conversation to be had — and it has to do with nepotism. In 2022, the internet ignited a conversation around celebrity offspring benefiting from their famous families when it came to getting work and finding success in their industries. From Dakota Johnson (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) to Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) to Maude and Iris Apatow (Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow), the kids of the previous generation of Hollywood stars have started making their own forays into the world of entertainment. The rise of “Nepo Babies” spread like wildfire: magazines made it the subject of every interview, Vulture coined 2022 “the year of the nepo baby,” and Hailey Bieber wore a baby tee cheekily embracing it

While Shyamalan wasn’t necessarily proudly sporting a scarlet “NB,” she’s also not entirely exempt from the nepotism debate. Shyamalan previously worked as an episodic director on her father’s Apple TV+ series Servant. With The Watchers, M. Night Shyamalan is an executive producer. Some might wonder if the box office film would have been greenlit if an established name wasn’t attached to it.

Missing from a lot of these conversations around nepotism in the industry though is that — especially in immigrant households — creating generational wealth that your children can benefit from and build upon is the ultimate goal for most parents. It also makes sense that children of Hollywood, who grew up spending time on movie sets, in music studios, and generally exposed to the industry at large at an early age, might develop a passion and similar interests to their parents’. And the conversation overlooks the fact that while there are famous families like the Smiths, the Kravitzs, and the Washingtons, nepo babies — as an extension of Hollywood itself — are still overwhelmingly white.

“That conversation [around nepotism] is a very gendered conversation,” Shyamalan adds. “We don’t really see those same words being put on men per se; it’s mostly a way to, at moments, invalidate young ladies.” Which is a fair assessment. In May, singer Lily Allen shared a similar sentiment, noting that she has been referred to as a nepo baby (her parents are British actor Keith Allen and film producer Alison Owen), while her brother, actor Alfie Allen (best known for playing Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones), has not. Shyamalan’s solo writing and directorial debut should be celebrated as the accomplishment it is. Women of color still only account for 3.4% of all movie directors.

Shyamalan says she understands and acknowledges where the fear associated with nepotism — that those born into privilege get an easier road to success —  comes from. The privilege she and her two sisters have entering into creative fields is something they’ve talked about at home. But riding on the hopes, dreams, and hard work of her immigrant family, she says her focus is to only work even harder. “[My sisters and I] feel so incredibly lucky to have that immigrant narrative close to us,” Shyamalan says. “Seeing our grandparents’, and even our parents’ journey, is so wonderful to remember that you have to work for those things that you want.”  

“It’s very much about working as hard as I can and being as kind of a person as I can, and hopefully that comes through and speaks for itself,” she says.

Moving forward, the emerging director hopes to delve further into the fantasy-horror genre she loves — balancing her monumental legacy her father passed along, with stepping out of that shadow to cultivate her voice and leave her own mark.

Because she may have the name, the same job, and even be a devotee to the same genre as her dad, but Ishana Night Shyamalan is still her own person with a unique voice and different stories to tell. The one thing she’s proudly inheriting is sage wisdom honed from her time watching her father on set and throughout his career. “There’s [always] been a strong emphasis on enjoying the process of making the art most, that that comes to the center, that you can’t look for any kind of external validation,” Shyamalan says. “It can’t be about what comes on the other side, it has to be from the enjoyment and love of the art form first.”

So tune out the haters because the only opinion that really matters is yours. Now, that’s sound dad advice. 

The Watchers is in theaters June 7.

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